The kids are all making lunch–each one having something different. Abel is eating hummus and bread, to be followed by fried eggs and toast. Elliot had a quesadilla with, I am ashamed to admit, salsa and ketchup on it. Ilsa and Hali, a teenage friend who’s staying with us for a while, are having grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Donn and I are having bagels with hummus, or possibly hummus and tomato sandwiches or scrambled eggs with chives and rosemary and cheese on bagels. We haven’t decided.
You don’t care, but you should. I’ll tell you why. You may be thinking that it is indicative of a recent grocery shopping, or a lazy mother who would rather type on the computer than make lunch for her kids. Both these things are true, but it also represents something else to me–the plethora of choices that makes up life in America.
Example 1: I have 30 minutes of free time. Should I blog–my connection is good; I‘m in the US. Or should I read the New Yorker? Or a book? Which book? Or the newspaper? Should I call a friend and go for coffee? I don’t have time! AUGH! The variety of options, even for something that simple, is overwhelming.
Example 2: I’m IMing with my friend Michelle in Mauritania, doing Spanish with the kids, chatting with my brother on the phone and writing a blog post, all at the same time. My head is spinning and I’m not too sure about my spelling. But what a great way to get lots of things done at once so I can go to the gym with a clear conscience!
It’s strange. Overseas, you might be busy, but people always have time. Donn would take our car to the local gas station to get the underside sprayed with diesel fuel (to prevent rust), and it would take 3 hours–because people stop to have tea, to chat with an unemployed friend who walks by, to admire German tourist’s camper-van (a travelling tent–what a brilliant idea!), etc etc. After many many rounds of tea, when he’d gotten to know them all, he was more comfortable leaving the car there and walking home occasionally, but that’s not always a good idea. We had a friend who left his car overnight at the mechanic’s, and someone took it out for a drive and wrecked it. And of course, once he knew them he was expected to stay for those endless rounds of tea.
Now, we schedule people weeks out. Want to come for dinner at the Nomads? Mondays and Wednesdays just aren’t good; weekends book up quickly. Days are busy with school.
It’s not that we didn’t have jobs and commitments in Africa. Thesis student time was beyond hectic; during juries, I would spend all daylight hours locked in a tiny library at the university, trying to remember what I’d read in each paper, and then go home to read more papers until the wee hours of the morning.
But people, spending time with them and being available to them, is always a priority.
I’m adjusting just fine–so fine I’m worried. It took years to not go insane with those long trips to the gas station or the post office. Now, I zip in and out–in a rush, gotta be somewhere soon, a flip “have a nice day!” flying off my lips along with a backwards wave if I run into a friend pushing a cart round Fred Meyer’s.
How will I do when we go back? It’s scary to me; how this American life has become so normal.

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